Valparaiso limited IPFW to just 26% shooting on the night and led from start to finish in a convincing 63-47 victory over the Mastodons Saturday evening at the Athletics-Recreation Center.
“I’m very, very pleased with our play tonight,” said Crusader head coach Homer Drew. “I thought our players did a nice job. IPFW is a very well-coached team with a lot of good players, and our guys did a great job of limiting their opportunities on the offensive end. One of our keys was to limit their 3-point shooting, and we did that, giving up just three 3-pointers tonight.”
IPFW hit just 6-of-24 shots from the field in the first half as the Crusaders led 39-21 at the break, and it didn’t get much better for the Mastodons after halftime, as Valpo hounded them into 7-of-26 shooting in the final 20 minutes. The Crusaders forced IPFW into 15 turnovers on the evening and allowed the Mastodons to rack up just three assists, matching the lowest total by a Crusader opponent since Mount Saint Mary’s registered just three helpers in a Valpo win on Dec. 30, 1999.
Meanwhile offensively, the Crusaders got a huge spark off the bench from sophomore Kevin Van Wijk (Hoofddorp, Netherlands/Katholieke Scholengemeenschap Hoofddorp). Van Wijk scored 16 points for the game, 12 of which came in the first half, on 6-of-8 shooting from the field while also grabbing five rebounds. Five of the sophomore’s six baskets came as he was getting fouled as well. While he only scored four second-half points, Van Wijk stepped up defensively, grabbing three defensive boards and blocking four IPFW shots.
“Kevin really gave us a great lift when he came in during the first half,” said Drew. “He came in and rebounded strong and converted some good baskets inside.”
Valpo got out to a quick start Saturday evening to take control early on. Fast-break buckets by junior Brandon Wood (Kokomo, Ind./Kokomo [Highland C.C./Southern Illinois]) and senior Howard Little (Chicago, Ill./Stoneridge [Calif.] School) helped the Crusaders score the first six points of the ballgame. After IPFW scored the next four, Little converted a layup on a feed from Van Wijk and then senior Michael Rogers (Kingston, Jamaica/Redemption [N.Y.] Christian) hit a pair of free throws before Van Wijk scored five straight as Valpo led 15-4 with 13:47 to play in the first half.
The Crusaders maintained at least a six-point spread for the remainder of the game, but IPFW would not allow Valpo to pull away until late in the opening stanza. A 6-0 mini-spurt midway through the half sliced Valpo’s lead in half from 12 to six, and the Mastodons were still within six at 26-20 with 5:53 to play in the period. But the Crusaders put together another big run to close the half.
After 80 seconds of scoreless basketball both ways, Van Wijk scored back-to-back buckets while being fouled for five quick points to push the Crusaders’ lead out to 11. Sophomore Erik Buggs (Memphis, Tenn./Mitchell) stepped up for a layup and mid-range jumper on consecutive trips down the floor, sandwiching an IPFW free throw, as Valpo led 35-21 with two minutes to play.
Following yet another defensive stop, part of an eight-minute stretch spanning both halves in which the Crusaders held IPFW without a field goal, senior Cory Johnson (Duluth, Minn./Duluth East [Iowa State]) corralled his own miss from close range and got the putback to go. Valpo capped a stretch of six straight trips with a basket on a nice feed from sophomore Ryan Broekhoff (Frankston, Victoria, Australia/Australian Institute of Sport) inside to Rogers for a layup to close a 13-1 run and send the Crusaders into the locker room with the 18-point lead.
“The way we finished the first half strong was a huge key,” said Drew. “We started the game with a run and then had a big run right before halftime to extend our lead, and then we made sure we kept the lead the entire second half.”
Any doubt about the eventual final result was erased early in the second half, as Valpo put together an 11-1 run, highlighted by a pair of 3-pointers by freshman Jay Harris (Aurora, Ill./Oswego East) to push its lead to the apex at 52-26 with 12:44 to play. IPFW would get no closer than 15 points the rest of the way.
A pair of starters joined Van Wijk in double digits for the Crusaders. Wood scored 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field while also pulling down four rebounds, while Johnson added 11 points, including seven free throws. Valpo, which out-rebounded IPFW 36-34, got five caroms apiece from Broekhoff and Little in addition to Van Wijk’s performance on the glass. Broekhoff also dished out a game-high five assists and came away with three steals, both of which are new career highs for the sophomore.
IPFW (7-3) placed two players in double figures, as Jeremy Mixon scored 14 points off the bench while Brandon Gaines chipped in 12 points from the starting lineup. Gaines also pulled down a game-high six rebounds. The Crusaders limited the Mastodons, who entered the game connecting on 8.5 3-pointers per game on nearly 40% shooting, to just a 3-of-14 clip from behind the arc.
Valparaiso (7-4) turns around quick for a pair of games at the Lou Henson Award Tournament in Rochester, Mich., hosted by former Mid-Con rival Oakland. The Crusaders play Eastern Michigan on Monday afternoon at 4 p.m. CST, and then take on either the host Golden Grizzlies or Rochester College on Tuesday depending on Monday’s results. Both games can be heard live on the Valpo Sports Radio Network or online at www.valpoathletics.com, which will also have links for live stats.